“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.”
~Philemon 8-9a (NIV).
Influence has a value all its own in our world. We pay for it, we loan it and we use it and draw upon it; favour it is, but of a kind not normally vouched in favouritism. Favour is a commodity common all over the world and it’s been known through all-time wherever there have been relationships.
This runaway slave of Philemon’s, Onesimus, had finally been Paul’s able assistant whilst Paul was incarcerated and he’d done that much for Paul, Paul felt he’d earned his freedom.
Paul now draws upon favour from Philemon, through his influence; indeed, reading the entire short letter we can get the impression Paul is arguing very persuasively, using his influence to its maximum extent; for the benefit of this servant of God in Onesimus.
Above all, Paul is probably saying that his role in the faith—and possibly, therefore, in life—overrides Philemon’s but he is loath to make him do something he doesn’t want to do (v. 14). He wants his obedience to be spontaneous and natural, and even perhaps excessive in love (v. 21).
Love – the Higher Law
We know when God’s Spirit convicts us of something; we don’t generally have a choice in the matter. This is not about being made to do things, but it’s the conviction of love that compels us more fervently. We’re convinced it’s the right thing to do.
Love is a more powerful law than pure compulsion. Love like this bonds itself to reason and it doesn’t, therefore, seek for things that are unfair, unreasonable or absurd. Love is intrinsically persuasive. It gets its own way due to merit and merit alone.
Although it could be seen that Paul is ‘ordering’ Philemon, or making a compelling case, he does still seems to provide him an option; not the least of which, the implicit right of reply.
Obligation or Option
For ourselves, then, we’re often placed in similar situations. People ask favours of us and we are commended for acceding to these requests; but, at times we feel we have no choice but to comply.
Many times, it is a fact, we don’t really have the choice, not if we’re to abide to what’s reasonable in the eyes of others that also seems undesirable to ourselves. Things are as they are—we’re required to ‘fit’ ourselves to this reality for our own good. These are options that compel us to give way to the request.
And yet, willing compliance is a more marvellous thing.
We can very easily turn what might seem to some as an obligation into an option. We see the option—then we make the choice. (There is ‘option’ in everything—if we choose not to see it we can only blame ourselves.) It’s the sound choice to see the option—the right choice—and we feel empowered to make it.
This is all about perspective. Whether we are empowered to love or we feel ‘forced’ to love starts and ends with us and our perspective on the thing.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.